Learning To Live

I have thought for some time that people devise many scenarios in which they feel they can express themselves, and then come to believe that the scenarios are necessary.

I am talking about scenarios that may at first sight not seem like scenarios at all. I am talking about many businesses and institutions that seem to be necessary for society to function. In reality they are the consequence of people’s need to find a context in which they feel comfortable expressing themselves.

Now we live in an age when the system has taken on such a life of its own, that it seems absolutely the outcome of logic, evolution, and careful planning. And to question it is heresy.

In February 2019 I went to Nepal. I had wanted to go there since the time I was in India and went to visit a Hindu temple. The walk to the temple, which was high in the hills, took several hours. And dotted here and there, Newari Nepalis had set up little tea shops – tents and seats and boiling tea. The people running the tea shops attracted me, but it was not until 26 years later that I got to go to Nepal.

What I want to talk about here is the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery, in Boudhanath, near Kathmandu. Shechen is gorgeous.

I was lucky to happen to go when some monks were making a three dimensional sand mandala. Seven monks in the great hall, sitting and lying on a raised platform several feet in diameter, putting pigment onto it, and onto more levels above it, each level smaller than the one below it. And apart from them, the great hall was empty. So I could stand and watch, and sit and take it all in.

The monks sprinkled different coloured pigments from tapered metal tubes about a foot long. The tubes had grooves on one side, and the monks used metal rods to rasp along the grooves. This encouraged the pigment to sprinkle ever so slowly out of the narrow end of the tube.

It was such painstaking work, blending areas of colour together. I don’t know how long it would take to make that mandala, but several full days at least.

The sense of community, of people working very closely together was surely not about the product. Sand mandalas are thrown away, and that impermanence is essential to the purpose of their creation.

If the purpose of making them is to reinforce the sense of the impermanence of things then it was also surely about the ongoing experience of working together in the right frame of mind.

The hall of the temple in which they were working was a masterpiece of detail. High ceiling, maybe twenty five feet high, with the walls, columns, and ceiling decorated in similar fine, exact detail.

If ego can inflate unnaturally, like a football, then learning to live with one another is an antidote.


  1. JenT says:

    2019? That would have been after the big earthquake. How is the country faring?


    1. There’s dust everywhere – gritty dust from the earthquake and from the rebuilding. When they scrape/knock the old mortar off bricks, it crumbles and adds to the gritty dust. There’s a whole generation of young Nepalis in the urban areas who are going to suffer in later life. Apart from that, on the surface everything is back to normal – props holding up walls, but life back to normal.


      1. JenT says:

        I’m glad to hear things are more normal. The devastation was horrific.

        As far as breathing, which is what I assume you were referring to, altitude and the tendency to smoke cigarettes as well as inhaling wood smoke doesn’t help their lungs either.

        Would love to see more of your trip.


        1. That’s right – but the gritty dust in the air kicked up by traffic and swirling around is bad. The traffic is mostly light motorcycles like trail bikes that everyone rides.
          I read about the dust risk before I went and bought a mask – and for walking along roads and streets with any kind of traffic it is necessary.

          Another problem I didn’t mention before is the lowering of the water table. In every place I went, the tanks were empty. In case you are not familiar with them – they are like a swimming pool, only deep, brick lined and designed to hold water. And now empty. They hadn’t had snow in the mountains for several years. It just happened that there was a little snow when I was there and I saw it from a rooftop in Patan. It was a big deal.

          What else? Complaints about traders from India undermining prices and making life more difficult. And China paying for infrastructure and causing a debt problem for the future. But at an everyday level and excepting the dust in the Kathmandu Valley – lovely. 🙂


        2. JenT says:

          Fresh water, certainly, and food are going to be one of the 21st century’s biggest challenges. We’re living the Chinese curse, “interesting times”. :/


        3. Interesting times and so much information.


        4. I didn’t ask – have you been to Nepal?


        5. JenT says:

          We haven’t and given the altitude, we may never get there. We would need a huge period of adjustment. Oh wait, that’s fine by me. 😀


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